Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Arkansas Derby Winners
Tom Pedulla presents five takeaways from an action-packed day of stakes races on Saturday at Aqueduct, including the Remsen Stakes and the Cigar Mile Handicap Presented by NYRA Bets:
RELISHING ADDED GROUND: A colt’s first opportunity to handle a two-turn distance often goes a long way toward determining whether that horse can meet the demands of the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and the other spring classics. Maximus Mischief could not have responded much better than he did in winning the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 2 $250,000 Remsen Stakes by 2 ¼ lengths and earning 10 qualifying points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. “He runs the turns really well and he swaps leads really good, so that’s generally where he gets the drop on them,” said jubilant trainer Robert Reid, Jr.
ONE TO WATCH: Study the Remsen replay and the case can surely be made that Network Effect, the runner-up and beaten favorite, was more impressive than the winner in the manner in which he finished. He was making significant gains with every stride. “I’m really satisfied with the way he did it. I think he’s a horse that has so much talent,” said jockey Javier Castellano. “I like the way he finished. I think he’s looking for a little more distance.” More pace, something he is certain to get in future preps, would have helped, too.
TOUGH SEASON: Mendelssohn closed a year in which he failed to meet high expectations with a disappointing fourth-place finish in the $750,000 Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap Presented by NYRA Bets. The heavily-traveled 3-year-old appeared to be running on empty for jockey Ryan Moore. “He didn’t jump like he normally does, so maybe it’s just been a long year,” said T.J. Comerford, assistant to Ireland-based trainer Aidan O’Brien. Moore believes Mendelssohn, for whatever reason, never performed to capabilities. “I think there is more in there at some point,” the rider said.
TIME WILL TELL: Trainer Rodolphe Brisset took after his mentor, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, by adopting a measured approach after Positive Spirit followed a maiden victory at Churchill Downs with an eye-popping 10 ½-length rout in the $250,000 Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes. “She’s a pretty big filly, but I’d love to see her develop even more in the transition from 2 to 3,” Brisset said. “Let’s take it month by month.” His immediate plan called for Positive Spirit to be shipped to Payson Park in Florida for a 30-day respite. “It’s a good place to chill,” said Brisset, breaking from Mott-speak for an instant.
SLOW START: Marley’s Freedom overcame a slow start to eke out a neck victory against Come Dancing in the $250,000 Grade 3 Go For Wand Handicap. She had not been so fortunate when it counted most, when she finished fourth in the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Jockey Mike Smith, who rode her both times, said of her early struggles in the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs, “She literally slipped so bad and then kind of stumbled. It took her four or five jumps to get up and I got beat half a length.” It was yet another reminder that there is little or no margin for error at the elite level.